I’m Helen McGinn, author of The Knackered Mother’s Wine Club, an award winning wine blog and best-selling wine book. I’m an ex-supermarket wine buyer and spent almost a decade sourcing wines around the world.
On Monday, the Husband and I celebrated 30 years since we first started going out. We were fifteen, the year was 1988. So in an effort to recreate that late ’80s feeling I booked two tickets to see Chess The Musical at the London Colosseum. Stay with me. We met at Kettner’s beforehand in their gorgeous new champagne bar (FYI their house pour is a big, bouncy blanc de noirs, really good value vs. the other big names on the list). Then it was showtime. I laughed, I cried, I sang along to I Know Him So Well. Both parts, obviously. A night away without the kids and we came back feeling like we’d been on holiday for a week. Funny, then, how 30 years feels like no time at all.
Earlier this week I popped up on ITV’s This Morning to talk about sugar in wine with the divine Philip Schofield and Holly Willoughby. The good news is that in the grand scheme of things, wine isn’t too bad as far as sugar goes. Most are fermented dry with yeasts converting the natural sugars found in grapes into alcohol. Anything that’s left is measured as residual sugar, or RS in wine speak. We’re talking a pinch per glass for most wines, half a teaspoon for sparkling. To put that into context, there’s around six teaspoons of sugar in a glass of orange juice. Of course, some of the sweet rosé or blush wines have more but a pale Provence rosé? A pinch, if that. Annoyingly though, alcohol is almost twice as calorific as sugar. But think bone dry with sensible alcohol levels and you’ll avoid the sugar rush.
At last, it looks like sun is on the way. And this time it might just stay for more than about 20 minutes. When we were promised some sun a few weeks ago I duly threw on the St Tropez and went the colour of an old mahogany sideboard (my preferred shade). Sadly, the tan way outlasted the actual sunshine. But the forecast for the Bank Holiday is looking pretty good. I’m predicting patches of white, with spells of rosé and a fair amount of red overnight…
I was away working in London all last week and after two rain-sodden weeks of school holidays, it felt like something of a mini-break. Admittedly quite a weird one; I spent much of it spitting out wine. Not because they were horrible but because I was judging at a wine competition. One night I sat at a table at one of my favourite restaurants in Soho (from the old days, before kids ofc) with a plate of spicy crab cakes and a side order of chips whilst reading my book/watching the world go by on my own. Heavenly. Anyway, the competition results are out next month (I’ll report back on the best ones) but in the meantime, here’s what I learnt:
I plan to drink a lot of Italian Vermentino this summer
Same goes for Godello from Spain
There’s some very good non-vintage Champagne about at the moment
Canadian Ice wine gives you a better sugar rush than chocolate
I like the Saperavi grape from Georgia more than I thought I did
English Sparkling Wine is a great way to start the day (even if you do have to spit it out)
As for an end of day palate cleanser, G&T is the answer. Strictly no spitting.
I’ve spent much of this week trying to keep kids off screens despite the rain/without spending a small fortune doing so. Hitting deadlines has meant getting up early and working late. But no school run, eating pancakes at 11am and watching films on Netflix in the middle of the afternoon has more than made up for it. Then, today, the sun came out. So we went to the local beach with sandwiches and dogs in tow and for a brief moment felt the sun on our faces. Completely wonderful. As was my glass of wine whilst tackling the washing pile when we got home…
The kids don’t break up until later but we’ve already broken out the Mini Eggs in this house. I bought them to put on top of my sister’s birthday cake (it’s tomorrow. She’s coming over from Belgium, where she lives, for the weekend. I’m SO excited). She’d better hurry because those eggs are like the Pringles of the chocolate world. But just as much as I love them, they’re not the only type of chocolate I’ll be eating over Easter. That would mean missing out on the dark, white, salted caramel and truffle ones. Not to mention the chocolate orange ones (definitely not just for Christmas).
Same goes for wine. So. Much. Choice. For example, someone asked me yesterday (via Instagram – follow me here for endless wine fun) what to drink if you like Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc but fancy a change. Pick a similar (but different) grape like Picpoul from southern France, Falanghina from Italy or Verdejo from Rueda in Spain. Or stick with Sauvignon but from somewhere like Bordeaux or the Loire Valley. The possibilities really are endless. Unlike our supply of Mini Eggs.
Spring is officially here. Not that you’d know it: I spent the day wearing two jumpers and a cardigan. But today the sky was blue and the chill in the air not quite as beastly as before. Now, I have no intentions of cleaning the house from top to bottom (three kids and three dogs make that an almost pointless exercise). But I am having a spring clean of sorts, starting with my phone. Not as in giving it up completely (don’t be silly) but gone are the time-wasting apps and group chats. Already I feel lighter than if I’d been on a juice cleanse. Which I haven’t (again, don’t be silly). Unless, of course, grapes count as juice.
Last week, one lovely reader asked about gin. She’d walked into a bar, ordered a gin & tonic, was asked which gin and panicked. So, her question: is there really that much of a difference apart from the price tag? Answer: the basic recipe is the same i.e. neutral base spirit with added botanicals. But it’s the particular botanicals used that make a big difference to the end result. To be called gin, one of the main botanical ingredients must be juniper (smells a bit like pine) but the rest is up to the producer. Which is why you’ll find citrusy gins, floral gins, spicy gins, juniper-heavy gins…and that’s before we get into sloe gins, flavoured gins and barrel-aged gins. The trick is to experiment, find your preferred style and get stuck in. I seem to change my gin preference according to the weather: lighter styles in summer, weightier in winter. So, with more snow potentially on the way I’m currently on the aged gin (see this week’s reviews below for more details).
As for the tonic, I know it’s not for everyone but I’ve just topped up on a homeopathic remedy. After a free trial I’m now on my second bespoke bottle. Seriously no idea how it works but I’m feeling decidedly kickass and definitely sleeping better. And I promise that’s nothing to do with the aged gin.
When it comes to Mother’s Day, I don’t ask for much. Which is just as well because the Husband would pass out if he knew how much my favourite bubble bath cost (Elemis Muscle Soak, as it happens). But I do insist on bubbles of another kind on Mother’s Day. In a glass bottle, preferably vintage. So this week’s picks are mostly bubbly, including an organic prosecco and a bargain vintage champagne. There’s also a gin that would make a brilliant gift (and costs less than the bubble bath). Here’s to you and yours (and mine, seen here. Filter: tequila) on Sunday.
So, as I write this, everywhere is blanketed in the white stuff. But like a foot sticking out from the edge of the duvet, where we live (in the New Forest) is cold but uncovered. And I’ve got serious snow envy because unless we get some, it means we’ve got to do World Book Day tomorrow. Cue last minute costume dramas. I’ll keep you posted.
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